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Legendary Sufi singer Abida Parveen, making musical magic. Image Source

My recent tryst with Sufi music on YouTube was quite a throwback to my days as a high-school student, when I’d seek out CDs of all-time musical greats like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Mehdi Hassan, Abida Parveen and Faiz. I’d always felt a strange enrapturing connection to their soulful melodies, that I could not definitively attribute to their very obvious musical gifts.

However, there was something different this time. I could actually see, on video, these greats performing and noticed something intriguing. Most of them seemed to have mapped various parts or notes or harkats to various spots in the physical space around them. I could clearly see Abida Parveen reaching out with her hands to pull in a lower note while performing on a different octave or stretch out both her arms in an expansive virtual space while letting her voice expand to fill the studio space. The movement of her music, scale, volume was like kinesthetic movement through a virtual three-dimensional space, populated intermittently with various musical artifacts, that she could pull in at will. …

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My alma mater — A place where no academic discussion was too taboo, no knowledge forbidden.

“If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools”

We live in blissful isolation from all but the immediate, but there are instances when that changes. Something, that you know is happening around the world, which feels very distant from your own personal life or your social circle, storms into it and disrupts the fabric of your reality.

It’s been a while since I sat in those classrooms at NID, my alma mater, when I had endless arguments with him. He the near perfect teacher; wise beyond lifetimes, possessed by an air of casual assuredness that comes with elaborate self-awareness. Me the naive, but persevering student; bolstered by what little I’d read and researched, forever challenging, forever contesting what he taught. Bristling up at the dismissal of my research, indignant for feeling like a fool, for not having been more thorough. He was all that I needed him to be, blunt enough to point out I was wrong, but inspiring enough to make me want to try and best him again. …

Sustainability is a very popular term, that gets frequently thrown around corporate conference rooms, university classrooms, pitching events and even your closest Starbucks. Everyone wants in on it; from the largest companies and small startups to policy makers and investors. Commonly, sustainability is associated with ecological contexts, that deal with planetary health, global warming, climate change and resource conservation. Product manufacturers and service providers are trying to reduce carbon footprints, use recycled raw materials and extend product lifespans in a bid to become sustainable. …

Small steps. Every day as it comes. Validate, don’t hypothesize. Think of the “now”.

As children we’ve heard the cautionary tale of the poor Brahmin, who got a pot full of flour as alms. He hangs it over his bed and he starts to dream of what the pot could become. He’d sell the flour for a pair of goats, sell their milk, buy a cow, become a wealthy dairy owner, marry the King’s daughter and have children. He’d get tired and angry when his children would bother him, and discipline them like a strict father. …

Design seems to be the buzz-word that every “innovative” organization is pandering to these days. It is not uncommon to find founders talking about Steve Jobs, how he evangelized design for Apple products, and how they see themselves on a similar path. Almost every new startup puts up an elaborate About page, where they talk about how they’re designing new things, responding to “users” and making their lives better. Large firms like IBM and IDEO have invested a lot of time and money developing definitions, cultures and methodologies around this word. …

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We all break things. Sometimes small, sometimes valuable, sometimes those that can’t be fixed. But every time this happens it leaves us in a moment of despair, bringing into focus everything that has been going wrong with us. Sometimes it might just push us too far. We feel vulnerable, directionless and cornered. What falls apart, isn’t always exceedingly valuable but the smallest of things can prove to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

On our journey with Lernr as a startup, we’re beginning to realize how often we will break stuff. We seldom do things right the first time. When the stakes and the odds are high, Murphy’s law has a strange way of becoming frequently applicable. These “breaks” tend to hit startups harder; we’re cash strapped, new to the game and we function in uncertainty. We have to make choices between getting a rented desk to work on and going out for a meal. More often than not, we settle for instant noodles. Our moments of vulnerable anxiety and helplessness therefore come more frequently and intensely. …

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Every morning, thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs, much like ourselves, come online to catch up on interesting news about startups on websites like VCCircle or the startups section in the Economic Times. Or if they’re more globally inclined they might head out to TechCrunch for their daily fix. For the past few days, no matter what you read, a lot of the news-space has been dominated by Uber’s troubles and Travis Kalanick’s resignation as its CEO. While Uber and Travis will most likely survive the storm, after all they’re one of the most successful global startups, it did make us ask ourselves some fundamental questions. How did it come to this? How do we make sure this never happens to us?

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Startups. They have been the next big thing for almost a decade now. In the past few years, giving up a corporate lifestyle to invest your time and money into your “passion” has become the cool thing to do. To be honest, we used to think this trend was about to die out of over-saturation. Entrepreneurship after all has gradually become the prevalent cliché, much like the misunderstood artist, teenage angst or a celeb in rehab. To the outsider it looks easy, almost rhetorical, though infinitely glamorous and rewarding.

So when 6 months ago, we found ourselves on the brink of falling into this precise cliché, it was only obvious that our smiles were sheepish. However, we believed in our idea, we knew we had the resolve to pull through with it, make it big, and possibly improve a million people’s lives. Lernr, our social learning startup, would be different, we decided. It would be the only product of its kind after all. We knew that we were not in this because it was a fad. …


Harshit Sinha

Design Strategist at Moonraft | Deep Experience Designer, Neuroscience Researcher, Entrepreneur

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